A COMMUNITY CALLED TO SERVE
[ Progressio - 1992, No. 2 ]
The following is a translation of the
talk given to the National Congress of CLC-France by the
Provincial of the French Jesuits, Fr Jacques Orgebin SJ. We
thought it would also be of interest and benefit to the World
Community. In addressing the Congress, Fr Orgebin sought simply
to share his reflections on the title of their assembly - "a
community called to serve" ....
Being with Him
Although the call to serve re-echoes all over the Gospel, it
must be pointed out first of all that Jesus did not start by
entrusting his disciples with a task, with a programme of action
to be carried out. He didn't tell them "Here's my plan. You're
going to come with me, we'll start by preaching the Kingdom in
Galilee, then in Judea. From time to time I'll send you off on
mission, two by two, to cast out devils and heal the sick. Later
on, when I am gone you will leave Jerusalem and set up
communities in my name all over Palestine, and as far as Athens
and Rome. That's the agreement. If you're happy with it, then
No, Christ didn't talk in these terms. He didn't begin by
calling them to a task, however noble. First of all he called
them to Him, to his person, without their knowing beforehand
just where this might lead them. Those amongst you who have made
the Exercises know how much they emphasise the personal
relationship with Jesus, who is the foundation of everything.
Mark's Gospel expresses this in a way, describing in Chapter
Three a scene where Jesus is seen climbing the mountain. A crowd
of people gather on the mountainside, men and women wounded by
life and ravaged by illness, who are desperately seeking a
saviour. One could imagine how, in the face of such suffering
humanity, Jesus's first reaction would be to say to his
disciples "do something for all these people, don't leave them
like this." But in fact this was not His way of doing things.
Before sending people to others, he called them to Himself.
Jesus, according to the text, "summoned those he wanted. So they
came to him, and he appointed twelve" ... not to be sent
straight into action, but to be his companions. So, before
anything else, Jesus calls people to enter into familiarity with
Him, to live in and from His presence. Only on this basis could
the disciples be sent to announce the One whose life they share
in, and put themselves at the service of his liberating work.
With Him and with each other
It seems to me that today more than ever we must hear the word
of Jesus, asking his disciples to come close to him and stay
with him, together. I insist on the word "together" because
Christian existence is never a solo venture. We move towards
Christ with one another, by means of one another. We always need
others with whom we keep learning how to grow and to be partners
in Christ's mission in this world.
No doubt, the call of Jesus is always addressed to an
individual, and not to vague or anonymous groups. Like the
"follow me" of the Gospel it seeks from each disciple a free
response. But to follow Christ's path and be with Him always
means joining with those who have heard the same call. The
Church of Christ, in the etymological sense, means "the
community of the called".
In this sense, this congress expresses symbolically the common
wish of its members to support each other mutually and to
encourage each other to respond together to the call of Jesus. I
am using the word "symbolic" here in a sense that tends to be
lost in current usage. If we call an action symbolic we often
mean it is almost insignificant, but in fact, in all their
richness, symbols are the reality which the human being cannot
do without if slhe wishes to express and affirm the desires of
the heart. A love or friendship that is never manifested in
tangible, concrete signs, ordinary though they may be, will
always fizzle out in the end.
In the same way, any Christian group will end in break-up if its
members don't really work together, reflecting a shared desire
to respond to their Saviour's call. Your meeting in this place
witnesses to your wish to make this gathering a community of men
and women committed to the same mission in the name of Christ
who calls us to serve together, as co-workers in His mission.
At the service of the mission
It is exactly this mission that I'd like to talk about now, by
reference to a text from the recent Synod dedicated to the
vocation of the laity in the world.
"Although it be one,” says this text,
"the mission of the People of God in the world carries two
dimensions : the witness given to the risen Christ, and activity
aimed directly at renewing the temporal order to bring about
greater union, justice and charity between people.”
Witnessing to the
One way of describing the first kind of witness the Synod talks
of would be the humble spreading of the presence of the risen
Christ and the power of his Spirit, in the ordinariness and
reality of our daily lives.
We know from experience that our lives are made up of a lot of
decisions, some big, some little, which give each person's
history its own shape. You reveal yourself - both to yourself
and to others - by the choices you make, or those you avoid. In
this perspective, Christian existence becomes human existence,
and no more, but with the one added condition that it be
directed by choices in harmony with the Spirit of Christ. So for
Christians, the first kind of evangelisation of the world is the
evangelisation of their own decision-making.
We in the Ignatian tradition know that it is not possible to
split your life into two parts as if there were one part for
things connected with God - Mass, prayer and reading the
scriptures - and the other part for things connected with
ourselves and others, that God has nothing to do with.
It is our total existence that is called to become Christian,
that is, animated by a certain spirit - the Spirit of Christ. To
live in the Spirit is to allow the Spirit into all the
dimensions of our lives, our relationships, our family life, our
work. The Faith is not split into sectors. The point of it is to
guide our actions in all their aspects and to enlighten all our
decisions - wherein we weave the fabric of our daily lives.
To put it in yet another way, an existence lived in a certain
spirit, that of Jesus himself, radiates this presence. It
constitutes the first form of witness given to Christ. Such a
testimony isn't always expressed in words, and even when words
play their part, they aren't necessarily words about religion,
since there is a spiritual way of talking about everything.
It remains to be said that our way of being, acting and talking
isn't the only kind of witness expected of Jesus's disciples.
It's also about expressing the faith, and being its servants.
This service can be accomplished in many different ways and in
particular by Christians' cooperating in the spiritual
enlivening of the church community. Saying this, I am not just
thinking of all the initiatives you take within the Christian
Life Community. I also have in mind all that you do, and all
that you could do, to contribute to the Church's pastoral
activity in all its fields of action: youth catechesis, student
chaplaincy, spiritual companionship for people or groups outside
CLC. The list of needs and possibilities is considerable, and
you know it as well as I do. I am not at all arguing that
Christians must put all their efforts into the internal
servicing of the church community. The Church does not have as
its sole aim the well-being of the faithful. She operates in the
world and for the world. The message of the Gospel is not a
hidden treasure to be shared with a precious few believers
within their church. The Good News of Jesus has to be spread
throughout the world, not only in words but in the deeds which
Humanising the world
The second dimension of the mission of the people of God, which
the Synod talked of, must therefore not be overlooked.
Christians are called to contribute to the "renewing of the
temporal order to bring about greater union, justice and charity
between people". So, there is an unbreakable link between the
service of faith and the renewal of the temporal order. The
Gospel also reaffirms this many times, and particularly in the
well-known parable of the sower.
Christ talks of a seed thrown on the ground which produces
sixty or a hundred-fold according to the quality of the soil.
The seed is the word of God, but it's also the witness of
disciples, whose way of living, acting, and talking makes the
presence of the Lord and the power of the Spirit manifest in the
Now, Christ tells us this seed is sure to bear fruit so long as
it falls on ground that is well-prepared. So, our Christian
mission cannot simply consist in personally leading a life which
bears witness to Christ; nor can it be limited to proclaiming
the Good News in words; it also implies creating the appropriate
conditions for its welcome. The Christian must not despair of
any of the kinds of ground the Gospel talks about.
there is the ground at
the edge of the road, in other words the lives of the
downtrodden, those trampled underfoot after undergoing trials or
being treated with contempt.
there is the stony
ground, in other words lives with no soil, without depth,
without roots; those who fall slavishly for every attraction,
vulnerable to all the hurts that are a part of existence and
constantly in danger of withering away.
there is the ground
covered in thorns, in other words lives cluttered with the
unimportant, people led astray by all the trappings of success,
seduced by things that merely alienate and enslave.
All these types of
ground, all these lives, are part of the mission ground
entrusted to Jesus's disciples. It won't do for them just to be
rich soil themselves, or to work on soil that is rich and
well-disposed to welcome the good seed. They have to work the
ground of this world such as it is, so that from it may spring
the harvest of the Kingdom. They have to work to humanise
humanity so that Christ, acting by the power of his Spirit, may
make it divine.
Accomplishing such a mission involves the personal action of
every Christian within their own situation, but it also requires
us to consider broader questions which have a bearing on how our
collective life is structured, on the running of the economy,
the educational system, cultural activity, etc. In all these
fields, where the future of our society is at stake, Christians
are not the only ones expressing their point of view, suggesting
solutions and contributing to their being put into practice, but
their faith in Christ doesn't allow them to take a back seat.
All the way through the Gospel, Jesus who announces the Good
News in words also heals the body. Following his example,
Christians have a mission to help heal the body of society from
It's not up to me to say what concrete form the putting into
practice of this Gospel message might take for the Christian
Life Community. The only thing I would like to say is that the
Society of Jesus – whom the Father General has urged many times
to bring together the service of faith and the promotion of
justice - needs partners to respond to what is asked of it. On
the face of it, you are well qualified to be these partners. The
spirituality which is common to us, which would have to guide
our way, invites each and everyone of us to look at the world as
Ignatius did in the meditation of the Incarnation in the
Exercises, that is , with the compassion that the three persons
of the Trinity have for the whole of humanity. Compassion means
"suffering with" by being placed side by side with those life
has not blessed, side by side with the victims of every sort of
misfortune, injustice and violence. Compassion also means caring
not only about those in pain, but also about those who are the
most vulnerable to the wounds that life can inflict, the young,
the weak, those left out by education, more threatened than
others by social change and the upheavals of history. In a word,
compassion means bothering about those who haven't got much to
look after themselves with, who need to be strengthened in human
and spiritual terms so they can stand and face the future.
- An immense task, certainly, the prospect of which might
sometimes leave us with a sense of powerlessness and despair. I
am sure that the apostles who went before us were familiar with
this testing experience. So to finish, 1'd like to remind you of
a Gospel passage where Christ gives hope to his discouraged
The scene retold in John 4:35 happens around March, beside a
sown field where no shoots have yet appeared. Jesus addresses
his disciples, looking at the ground, "Haven't you got a saying:
four months and then the harvest? Well I tell you, look around
you, look at the fields; already they are white, ready for
- A puzzling thing to say. But Jesus isn't trying to give us an
agriculture lesson here. He has something else in mind. "You
see," he is saying, "that in this sown field there isn't a
single shoot to be seen. But you know that if you look again in
four months, there'll be corn there. Well then, just as you have
no doubt about the harvest coming from this earth, believe too
that in humanity, where my word and yours have been planted, the
harvest of the kingdom will come." But to believe this, we need
to accept the task of sowing without reaping, just as we reap
what others have sown before us. "One sows, another reaps", as
Jesus goes on, "I sent you to reap a harvest you had not worked
for, and you will come into the rewards of their trouble. But
the day will come when other harvesters reap what you have sown,
and you will rejoice with them."
So, there can be a long time between the planting of the seed of
which Christ talks (the time of witnessing) and the reaping of
its fruits. Christ invites us to sow, with hope, fields which
are not yet flush with the harvest, to prepare a future whose
fruits we may never see.
Perhaps, at times, we may have doubts about the fruitfulness of
our mission. It is here that we need a little of the patience of
God, which does not ask us to put off until later what needs
doing today, but teaches us not to sit anxiously waiting for the
Church's mission - or the Christian mission, or CLC's - to
succeed. Thus, we must lift from our hearts that worry which
makes us think we must do everything ourselves as if everything
began and ended with us.
We always enter into the same work that others have done before
us. We reap the heritage of our predecessors and we prepare the
way for those yet to follow. Only one thing matters: believing
that God is there, hidden in the heart of the unknowable future,
to bring to fruition our patient labour, on ground that is bare
and dry, which the Lord tells us will flourish: This is our
- Jacques Orgebin SJ
 Synod of 1987 on "The Vocation and Mission of the
Laity in the Church and in the World"